Former Prime Minister Armen Sarkissian insisted on Friday that he is eligible to become Armenia’s next president despite being a former British citizen.
The Armenian constitution requires presidential candidates to have had only Armenian citizenship for the last six years.
Sarkissian, who is currently the country’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, said that he does meet that requirement.
“Yes, I was a citizen of Great Britain,” he told reporters. “After I was relieved of my ambassadorial duties in 2000 I applied for and received British citizenship in 2002. I renounced that citizenship in 2011.”
“I renounced it because I didn’t it anymore, not because in 2011 I thought that you are going to change the constitution and that I’m going to become ambassador and then a [presidential] candidate,” he said.
“This is not an issue for me,” he added in reference to a media report that questioned his eligibility.
Hetq.am, an Armenian investigative publication, revealed on Wednesday a 2014 British government document referring to Sarkissian as a British national. The documents relates to the activities of Eurasia House International, a London-based organization set up by the former premier in the early 2000s.
Sarkissian insisted that the information is outdated because Eurasia House stopped functioning in 2010. “Do you think that when somebody in Britain gives up [citizenship] their name is immediately removed from all places?” he said.
Sarkissian, 64, has lived in London for nearly three decades. A physicist and mathematician by education, he worked at the Cambridge University before being appointed as newly independent Armenia’s first ambassador to Britain in 1991. He served as prime minister for four months in 1996-1997 before being again named ambassador in London in 1998.
After his second ambassadorial term was cut short in 2000, the ex-premier stayed in the UK and made a fortune there in the following years. He was named Armenian ambassador in London for a third time in 2013.
President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation) formally offered last month to nominate the envoy as his ruling Republican Party’s presidential candidate. Armen Sarkissian said he will decide whether to accept the offer after holding consultations with major Armenian parties and other organizations.
The nominee met on Friday with parliament deputies representing the opposition Yelk alliance. The latter had agreed to talk to Sarkissian despite making clear that they will not vote for him.
Armenia’s next president will be elected by the parliament, rather than popular vote, early next month. He or she will have largely ceremonial powers in line with the country’s transition to a parliamentary system of government. Serzh Sarkisian’s final presidential term expires on April 9.